The 50 Best Inventions

The year's most inspired ideas, innovations and revolutions, from the microscopic to the stratospheric

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Phillip Toledano / Trunk Archive

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12 CENTIMETERS | No, that's not really a lake in the middle of a desert; it's the mirage effect. Nanotech scientist Ali Aliev, a researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas, re-created the effect using 350-micrometer carbon nanotubes arranged in a sheet of what appear to be tiny threads. Spike the sheet's temperature to more than 2200°C and the dissipating heat bends the surrounding air and light waves, making any objects behind the sheet appear invisible. But Aliev's experiment works best underwater, so don't expect to see this in the halls of Hogwarts anytime soon.


14.3 CENTIMETERS | With an iridium handle, pure platinum screws and white sapphire blades, Zafirro's new razor sounds more like a Tiffany accessory than a bathroom gadget. But its form serves its function: to provide customers with a close shave and a very durable shaving device. Iridium is one of the strongest, densest materials in existence, and the company claims that each hypoallergenic and corrosion-resistant blade is 5,000 times thinner than the human hair it's designed to cut. The razor, which costs $100,000, comes with free cleaning and resharpening services for 20 years. That's about $99,000 more than you'd spend on disposable razors in that time, but if the exorbitant price doesn't keep sales down, the quantity produced will: only 99 of the razors have been made.


15.4 CENTIMETERS | The Inkling pen automatically remembers whatever you draw with it on any kind of paper. Using ultrasonic and infrared technologies, the pen captures your sketch line by line, storing it on a receiver you place on your piece of paper. When you connect the receiver to a computer via a USB cable, it transfers those images as files, and voil! Your freehand sketch is a digital image. The genius of the Inkling is that it preserves the authentic pen-to-paper quality that is sometimes lost in computer-generated images. Though this tool is geared toward professional illustrators and designers, it's simple enough for amateurs too. No talent required.


16.5 CENTIMETERS (WINGSPAN) | A team of engineers led by Matt Keennon at California-based AeroVironment has developed the Nano Air Vehicle (NAV), a tiny, two-winged surveillance prototype for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Designed to mimic a hummingbird's flight, the NAV can fly up to 17.7 km/h in all directions, even backward. It can hover and rotate clockwise and counterclockwise. The $4 million aircraft is remote-controlled and weighs 18.7 g, less than one AA battery (but more than most real hummingbirds). It's also equipped with a video camera. Because it's so small, the NAV can go where humans can't: it can spy, scout out safe spots in combat zones, hunt for survivors after a building collapse or an earthquake and even locate a chemical spill. Who knew the canary in the coal mine would turn out to be a hummingbird?

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